Students have to read through stacks and volumes of books and assigned text. In the past, the primary reference materials and assigned reading materials were printed books to be purchased or borrowed from a library.

Thanks to technology, these study materials are available in digital format. Those who prefer reading through a browser, using a computer, tablet, or smartphone can simply buy or rent these books. In contrast, those who like to read from printed materials can proceed with the traditional route of buying and/or borrowing. 

Among the youth, the use of gadgets is becoming the go-to option for studying and notetaking. They are digital natives who were born at a time when computers and other devices have become more sophisticated and user-friendly. As a result, they grow up knowing how to swipe and tap without reading a user manual. 

Related reading: Synchronous Learning vs. Asynchronous Learning – What’s the Difference?

Increasing Demand for Variety in Formats

Publishers have done a lot of work to ensure that there are options for online and offline reading. This reached a fever pitch during the start of the Covid-19 pandemic when schools demanded higher volumes of digital textbooks and reference materials instead of print materials. 

One of the goals of providing digital and print reading materials is to cater to students’ needs and preferences. In particular, having online materials is convenient because it can reach a more significant number of students in the field of education. In addition, there’s no need to worry about sourcing hard-to-find books and paying for shipping. Instead, everything happens with a few clicks. 

Linear and Non-Linear Reading 

Linear reading refers to the traditional way of reading (left to right, top to bottom), while non-linear reading is more scattered—going back and forth through pages, skimming through topics to grasp the subject matter

Everyone does both types of reading, whether you are doing it online or offline. Offline reading allows students to do both types of reading freely while only focusing on the material in their hands. Online reading, however, does so but in a limited sense.

If reading through a computer is also used for other purposes (writing, researching, entertainment), the attention span for reading is significantly reduced. Although different book formats present the same information, the manner or strategy by which a student consumes that information has to be different. These strategies will be discussed in a separate section. 

Reading Online 

Online learning has become a familiar and convenient way to acquire knowledge. Despite not being in an actual classroom, the students can have a learning experience through online classes (synchronous and asynchronous). Just like in traditional face-to-face learning, teachers give assigned reading lists.

In addition, however, teachers can simply provide links to source materials in an online setting, which is a very convenient option for those in an online class. 

One of the main challenges of those who study online is the eye strain due to reading from a screen. In addition, it causes fatigue for the eyes to the blue light. Another concern is that online reading is prone to distractions. 

Our brains are trained to scroll quickly through information when we’re on a digital platform, whether for leisure or study. This extends to online reading materials, and it results in a shallow understanding of the subject matter. However, online reading does have benefits. 

Benefits of Reading Online 

  • Convenient. Because these materials are available online, there is no need to go out and buy a book. For the same amount of money, students can access the same reference material without leaving the house. Some even include add-ons. 
  • Access. Online resources are available to anyone who has an internet connection and is granted access to materials. Before e-books were introduced, people had to worry whether the book they needed was available at their local library or bookstore. If not, they would have had to source it from abroad, paying for shipping and waiting a long time before getting a copy. 
  • Paperless and not bulky. The digital files will not take up space on a desk and add clutter to a room. More importantly, once a student has finished a school year, there is no need to worry about disposal. 
  • Bonus materials. Online resources often include hyperlinks for keywords and references, which students can access. Some even include links to videos, podcasts, and even the dictionary. This feature makes e-books and online references time-efficient. It also caters to the needs of different types of learners. 

Reading Offline 

Offline learning has always been the norm for acquiring knowledge as much as reading offline has been the norm for consuming information. Offline reading literally refers to any form of reading without the aid of the internet, but it usually refers to reading print materials such as a book.

Traditional reading techniques require students to get a book and to find a quiet corner for reading. When it comes to learning, it might require additional tools like pens, notebooks, and highlighters. Nevertheless, it is a straightforward approach. This analog approach is preferred by many because of its benefits.

Benefits of Reading Offline

  • In-depth learning. When students read from printed material, they focus on that one item before moving on to the next. This allows them to focus, contemplate and process the information before moving on.
  • Intentional. When reading print materials, you are only focusing on what is in front of you, which can be a great thing if you want to focus. In this way, all distractions from the text are eliminated (no hyperlinks and ads!). It’s up to the student to remove external distractions from their study area to fully reap the benefits of intentional reading and studying.
  • Interactive. The act of flipping through pages, annotating, and highlighting helps jog the mind. It engages the senses: sight, touch, even smell. Whereas in online reading, it’s mainly just the sense of sight that is engaged, offline reading adds a different layer of experience, which can help people retain and retrieve information.

Tips for Reading on a Screen 

In the syllabus or outline, students can find sources and links to online articles, online libraries, and e-books. Not only are online resources more convenient, but it is also said to be better for the environment. However, reading online requires a different approach. Here are some tips for online reading: 

  • Remove distractions. Consuming information from a gadget poses risks of getting distractions. Close all unnecessary apps, adjust the lighting on the device, and block all notifications. 
  • Identify your purpose. To avoid getting distracted, it might be a good idea to know why you are reading, and if possible, come up with questions. Let these questions guide you as you read through the article instead of aimlessly reading. 
  • Skim through. Read the title, the subheadings, and the first and last paragraphs to determine whether you have the right reading material. 
  • Take notes. Some e-book formats will allow you to annotate and highlight. However, it would also be a good idea to have a notebook on hand where you can take notes as you would while reading a printed book or listening to a lecture. This will help with retaining and retrieving information moving forward. 
  • Time limit. Read for 25-minutes, then rest the eyes for 5 minutes. Online reading exposes the eyes to blue light, which can lead to eye strain and fatigue.  

Which One Is Better for Studying? 

Online and offline reading each has their pros and cons. Online materials are easier to access and are more convenient, while offline materials are recommended for in-depth reading and annotating. Reading materials on paper has been proven to be very beneficial to learners as it engages different parts of the brain at once while reading. It helps the brain process information well. 

Reading strategy and skill play an essential role in learning, especially regarding online or digital materials. One cannot deploy the same reading techniques that they use when reading print materials to reading online. When reading online, people are vulnerable to distractions and mental exhaustion. Consider that when choosing between an e-book or a printed book for studying. 

Final Thoughts 

Reading online and reading offline allow students to consume information in different ways—that is to say, they are not substitutes for each other. The norm for reading has always reading offline.

However, reading online resources has allowed people from different parts of the world to access source materials without worrying about availability. In terms of studying, there is strong evidence that suggests that offline reading (specifically reading print materials) is still better for learning and information retention

Students these days reap the benefits of having options thanks to the developments in technology. 

Having access to reading materials has never been more convenient due to the availability of e-books and online libraries. Unlike what was initially feared, e-books have not replaced printed books.

In fact, reading materials in print and digital formats continue to be produced simultaneously. No one can argue that the most essential part is the content. In the spirit of sharing information, it all depends on which option is available and preferred by the people who will use it. 

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Patricia Alfonso

Patricia Alfonso is an educator and researcher who earned her master's degree in guidance and counseling from Ateneo de Manila. She specializes in developing school counseling programs for schools.

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